President Goodluck Jonathan may have placed the embattled Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, on “tactical suspension,” findings by The PUNCH have revealed.
A reliable Presidency source said Jonathan decided on the “tactical suspension,” hours before the signing of the Bilateral Air Service Agreement between Nigeria and Israel on Monday.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Aviation, Mr. George Ossi, had on October 24 told the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation that Oduah led a Nigerian delegation to Israel to sign the BASA.
The House committee is probing the purchase of two bulletproof cars at a whopping N255m price by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority for the minister.
Our source explained that it was the ‘tactical suspension’ that made Jonathan to direct the Minister of State (1) for Foreign Affairs , Prof. Viola Onwuliri, to sign the agreement instead of Oduah.
When asked by one of our correspondents what ‘tactical suspension’ meant, he said, “Oduah will not be allowed to attend public functions that will have the President in attendance until the three-member committee set up to investigate the matter turns in its report.”
The source, who said he did not know whether the “tactical suspension” order had been formally communicated to the minister, stated that the step became necessary in order to dissuade Nigerians who hold the opinion that the President was shielding Oduah.
In what seemed a corroboration of the “tactical suspension,” the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Mr. Ahmed Gulak, insisted that Jonathan would not associate with or shield anybody found to be corrupt.
He insisted during an interview with one of our correspondents on Tuesday, that the minister did not travel to Israel on the entourage of the President.
“Did you see them (Jonathan and the minister) together in Israel? The President will not associate or shield anybody found to be corrupt. That is why he set up that panel because he will not want to act based on media reports,” Gulak said.
Shortly before our source and Gulak spoke, the Presidency said the BASA was signed by Onwuliri because it was a matter bordering on foreign affairs.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, in an exclusive telephone interview with one of our correspondents, argued that there was no politics involved in Onwuliri signing the agreement on behalf of the government.
He said Nigerians should not reduce the matter to “the politics of political appointees who are all ultimately birds of passage.”
The President’s spokesman said Oduah did not only attend the signing ceremony but was also involved in framing the technical details of, and in preparing the agreement along with her Israeli counterpart.
He said it was when that was done, that the Foreign Ministries moved in at the level of G2 diplomacy.
Abati added, “The groundwork (for the agreement) was done by the Ministry of Aviation hence the involvement of the Aviation Minister, but this being a country-to-country agreement, more or less a treaty, it had to be signed by the Foreign Affairs Minister.
“It is also the convention in diplomacy to pair ministers. The Israelis brought their Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, so we did the same. There was no politics involved and there is no doubt that it is within the provenance of the Foreign Ministry to sign agreements on behalf of the country.
“Let me add that BASA is about countries entering into an agreement.
“It is not about individuals. We must avoid the ridiculous temptation to reduce something that will promote good relations with a friendly nation to the politics of political appointees who are all ultimately birds of passage.”
When asked if the embattled minister was under “tactical suspension,” Abati replied, “She (Oduah was actually in attendance at the signing of the BASA . As I said, she was involved in framing the technical details of, and in preparing the agreement along with her Israeli counterpart. That done, the Foreign ministries moved in at the level of G2 diplomacy.”
Meanwhile, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party said on Tuesday that it was worried by the bulletproof car scandal.
Like, Gulak, it assured Nigerians that whoever was found culpable would face the law because it (PDP) would never condone any form of graft.
The party, however, wondered why the opposition All Progressives Congress was going into a frenzy over the scandal when its “governors and leaders have been involved in bulletproof car deals more scandalous than those in the Ministry of Aviation.”
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, the PDP said its position on corruption was unambiguous.
A part of the statement reads, “The position of our great party on corruption is unambiguous and our zero tolerance for corrupt practices abounds in practical examples.
“To us as a party, the accusation of corruption in the Aviation ministry is a big worry. It is for this reason that the President and the leader of our party has set up a panel to investigate the matter while the National Assembly which we also lead has stepped in.”
It frowned on the ethnic dimension which comments and street actions on the issue had taken and advised “ethnic lords, jingoists as well as lynch mobs “ to realise that biased sentiments could hardly achieve an objective basis for establishing the culpability of the public officers involved in the matter.”
The party then went for the jugular of the APC , saying it (APC) was not different from a white washed tomb.
The PDP described the APC as a stinking sepulchre and the headquarters of corruption in Nigeria.
It said, “This is a party whose leaders relish in stinking miasma but artfully turning a blind eye to it.
“They however go megaphonic when other political parties are involved.
“Hardly can you point at any of its leaders without a heavy baggage.
“In fact, the governors and leaders of the APC have been involved in bulletproof car deals more scandalous than those at the Aviation ministry but this is conspicuously missing on the sermon list of these false evangelists of good governance.”
It wondered why the trial of the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, for acts of corruption, had yet to be discussed by the APC leadership.
The PDP further contended that the stench of corruption oozing from the concession of the Lekki Toll Plaza and its debilitating effects on the electoral fortune of APC was the reason the Lagos State Government allegedly retrieved and paid off the firm that built the road.